OK, so what happens after I say goodbye to my Operation Christmas Child shoebox?

Can you believe it’s already November? Amongst other things, that means OCCtober is over and many of us have delivered our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to collection points.

before and after processing
Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes before and after processing.

After poring over the packing instructions in the leaflet, on the inside of your pre-printed shoebox or online, you have chosen a gender, age group and shopped carefully to lovingly fill your box. Perhaps you have little ones who have enjoyed helping select each item. You’ve removed excess packaging and carefully arranged your items within the shoebox:

Something for school – a pencil case full of colours, leads, sharpener, eraser and exercise book. These items might seem boring, but are really important, as in many countries students are not allowed to attend school if their family can’t provide stationery items and sadly many families can’t afford them. If you include crayons, place them in a zip lock bag in case they melt in transit.

Something for personal hygiene – a cake of soap, washer and toothbrush, maybe a hairbrush or comb. No liquids, so liquid soap, toothpaste, deodorant, perfume, lip balms and creams are out.

Something to wear – a t-shirt and underwear are most popular here but dresses, shorts, pyjamas work too. Best to go for modesty though to suit all cultures and no pirates or skulls please.

Something to play with – often the children who receive these boxes don’t own toys as such, so this is really special. Balls, skipping ropes, musical instruments such as recorders (heaven forbid) or small xylophones, craft kits for older kids (be sure to remove glue, as liquids are a no-no), jigsaw puzzles, dolls, small lego kits (flatten the box and place the inner packaging in a zip lock for later storage), pick-up-sticks and the list goes on. This is a fun category to buy for.

Something special – this one can be tricky. Things like costume jewellery, pretty hair ties (Jojo bows are popular this year), sunglasses, craft or sewing kits, a torch, a water bottle, a carry bag, soft foldable hats, some stickers or a colouring book all work. I saw several cute plastic lunch boxes which fitted in the shoebox and other items were then packed into it when processing shoeboxes last week.

Something to love – think something cuddly and comforting; a teddy or other soft toy. These are often difficult to find small enough. Knitted dolls, small kangaroos and koalas, soft animals in all shapes and a variety of sizes fit.

“What happens next?”

Step 1: Your box is packed and you’re hesitant to hand it over to a stranger for processing, wondering if it will be taken care of and

OCC shoeboxes taken to processing
Shoeboxes enroute to processing centre.

actually reach a child in need. I can assure you, all boxes received will reach a child. Once dropped off, boxes are packed into volunteers’ cars, trailers, hired trucks or trains for transporting to the processing centre in your state.

Step 2: Once at the processing centre, boxes are unloaded and stacked onto pallets. Oversized boxes are sent to a repacking station, where they

OCC shoeboxes arrive at processing
Unloading a shoebox delivery.

are downsized into smaller boxes. Wherever possible, all original items are still included. Age and gender categories are separated and stacked at the end of checking pods. Each checking pod is set up for a single gender and age group (eg. 5-9 year old girls).

Step 3: This is the fun bit. Volunteers open each box, remove donations and check

OCC shoebox checking pod
Processing pods.

contents thoroughly. Unsuitable items are removed. Second hand items are discarded whilst items such as liquids and breakables are placed into a box for donating to local charities. Excess hard packaging and stickers on clothing are discarded. Boxes which are missing a category or are not full enough get topped up, using extra items donated for this purpose. Donations are then carefully repacked

into their original shoebox.

step 4 - sealing and boxing
Sealing and placing shoeboxes into packing crates.

Step 4: Shoeboxes are firmly taped shut, packed into large packing boxes and labelled with the number of boxes contained, gender and age they are intended for. ‘Track your box’ labels are scanned prior to boxing.

Step 5: Packing boxes are stacked in piles. Pallets

step 4c
Packed in large crates awaiting shipping.

of boxes are wrapped in plastic to hold them together, ready for loading into shipping containers for the journey to their final destination. Australian boxes are sent to our neighbours within the Asia Pacific region.

During my day at the Brisbane Processing Centre, about twelve volunteers checked, topped up and sealed 1200 shoeboxes in the categories of 2-5 year girls and boys and 6-9 year girls and boys. 40 000 boxes are expected to be processed there this month. The

step 3d - topping up
Fillers used to top up shoeboxes.

majority of boxes needed something done to them, whether removing excess packaging, adding a missing category or removing unsuitable items. A lady processing beside me could be heard quietly saying, “well done, a lovely box, perfectly packed” as she came across each one that needed nothing extra done to it. This raises the question,

“How do I pack the perfect box?”

unsuitable items - liquids and breakables
Unsuitable items removed from shoeboxes.

It’s really not very complicated and gets easier the more you participate. Here’s some tips for next time:

– Read the packing instructions carefully and check the ‘not allowed’ lists each year, as things change depending on receiving countries and customs regulations. These are listed on the Operation Christmas Child Australia website and are usually printed on the brochures which contain the shoebox labels.

– Ensure you have at least one item from each category. I suggest several items from school and hygiene categories and one from the rest. My typical box this year looked like this: Hygiene – soap, washer and toothbrush. School – pencil case with colours, leads, pens, eraser, sharpener and an exercise book. Wear – t-shirt. Play – craft kit for girls, jigsaw for boys. Love – assorted soft animal toys. Special – shoulder bag. (I always pack for the 10-14 year age group, as they have least donations. Other items would be more suitable for younger children.)

– Choose age-appropriate items. Small items present a choke hazard for the youngest age category. Size 10 shirts aren’t ideal in a 2-4 years box, although an older sibling may wear them and they won’t be removed. Your box will only be delivered to the age and gender category you specify.

– Comfortably fill your shoebox. It shouldn’t be half empty with items rattling around but likewise shouldn’t be bulging and impossible to close as a bulging box is difficult to fit into large packing boxes for transport. If you have covered all categories and your box is still a bit empty, include another toy, a hand towel, a t-shirt or other more bulky item to fill the available space.

– Include $10 postage per box. This can either be cash placed at the top of the box or

step 4b

can be paid online/ over the phone. It’s lovely to pack 20 boxes but if you only include postage for one, that’s a problem. Only pack as many as you can afford postage for to ensure all boxes can be sent. Donors usually cover excess postage costs, but this can’t be guaranteed and some boxes may be left for the next year if sufficient postage is not included. Operation Christmas Child Australia is an entirely self-supporting registered charity. Most workers are volunteers, with only a few paid positions across Australia, funded by specific donations, not your postage donation. You can be confident your shoebox will reach its destination and your donation will be used to cover processing, shipping and distribution costs only.

Anna xo

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